“Search for the truth is the noblest occupation of man; its publication is a duty.” - Anne Louise Germaine de Stael (1766-1817), a French-speaking Swiss author living in Paris and abroad who influenced literary tastes in Europe at the turn of the 19th century.
Third Grade Reading and Instructional Time: Our Point of View
By Dr. Pat Kusimo
The Education Alliance supports the Governor’s focus on third grade reading proficiency and ensuring students receive at least 180 days of instruction. Third grade is the “make or break” point for children to learn to read sufficiently to ensure their future academic success. By fourth grade, most children begin using reading skills to learn other subject areas. As a result, a student’s chances of graduating from high school can be predicted with reasonable accuracy by examining his or her reading level at the end of third grade. Students not reading proficiently by the end of third grade are four times more likely than proficient readers to drop out of high school (1).
The following other outcomes are associated with the third grade reading benchmark:
- Three of every four third-grade students who are poor readers remain poor readers in high school.
- About 16 percent of children who are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than for proficient readers.
- For children who were poor for at least a year and were not reading proficiently by the end of third grade, the proportion failing to graduate rises to 26 percent.
- For children who were poor, lived in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, and were not reading proficiently by the end of third grade, the proportion jumps to 35 percent.
- Up to half of the fourth-grade printed curriculum cannot be understood by fourth graders because of their limited reading skills; consequently, achievement gaps widen as students progress through school.
In 2012, about 50% of all third grade students had reading/ language arts scores at the mastery or above level on the WESTEST2. For students considered to be low socio-economic status, only 40% scored at or above the mastery level. Improving the early literacy skills of students must be a priority and it is one of the many reasons West Virginia students need more instructional time.
As states and school districts seek ways to improve student achievement across the nation, the issue of learning time has become an increasingly important consideration. American schools have historically operated on an outdated agrarian-based school calendar, which incorporates an elongated summer vacation period that can negatively impact student retention and overall achievement. In addition, many other nations extend their school calendars to 200 or more days, leading current Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, to state, "Young people in other countries are going to school 25, 30 percent longer than our students here. I want to just level the playing field."
The school calendar and learning time has become a particularly relevant conversation for those states seeking to address populations with high levels of poverty and other at- risk factors. Summer is a crucial time for kids, especially poorer kids, because poverty is linked to problems that interfere with learning, such as hunger and less involvement by their parents. That makes poor children almost totally dependent upon their learning experience at school. Wealthier kids have parents who read to them, have strong language skills, and go to great lengths to give them summer learning opportunities such as computers, camps, vacations, music lessons, or playing on sports teams.
The number of actual instructional days has become a relevant consideration for many of the same reasons. More and more states are granting schools the flexibility to offer expanded learning opportunities, like Massachusetts, Washington, Connecticut, and Maryland. The latter two states allow low-performing schools to add instructional hours or other innovative school scheduling as a strategy to raise student achievement.
There is research support for these efforts. A 2010 study reviewed 15 empirical studies about extended school time since 1985, and determined that extending school time can be an effective way to support student learning, especially for at risk students (2).
As West Virginia seeks to improve the educational achievement and attainment of its youth, policy and practice changes must place students’ learning first. While change is not easy, it is necessary to guarantee more West Virginia youth will complete high school ready to enter the workforce, pursue additional education and participate in a global economy.